‘Deadstock, beaters, hypebeast, heat …’

Maria Bobila

According to Urban Dictionary, a sneakerhead is “a person who collects limited, rare, original or flat-out exclusive kicks.” It is often stereotypical for a woman to own a large collection of shoes, but for guys, sneakers, specifically Nikes and Air Jordans, can be a status symbol. It’s an interesting culture that has been underground for quite a few years but now has caught the attention of mainstream media.

A few celeb sneakerheads may come to mind: Fat Joe (famous for licking the bottom of a never-used pair of his many sneakers on “MTV Cribs”), DJ AM (famous for possibly being named after the Nike Air Max and posting his room-full sneaker collection on his MySpace) and Chris (famous for appearing on The Tyra Banks Show for his compulsive spending of $12,000 per year on sneakers). But little do we know that a few sneaker connoisseurs happen to be on our own campus.

“Basically, we’re all just a bunch of nerds,” senior Ryan Burke says. “Instead of comic books or Star Wars, our passion is sneakers.”

“I don’t think there is a clear definition as to what sneaker culture is,” fellow senior Dave Austria says. “But if I had to describe it, I’d say it is a bunch of people that have a more-than-normal interest in sneakers.”

The two have been quite involved in the sneaker scene for a while. Ryan is the site administrator for NikeSkateboarding.org, a sneaker site dedicated to Nike Skateboarding shoes that hosts forums and spots fake kicks. Knock-offs are not just for designer purses!

“I started as a member looking for information on new drops and releases,” Burke says. “It was basically a labor of love, and I absorbed as much information as possible. It got to a point where I knew a lot and the dudes running the site took notice. They started me off in a moderator role, taking care of a specific area of the forum. As time progressed, my duties expanded, and then the next thing I knew, the site creator put me in charge of the whole site. My duties include member development, member discipline, day-to-day forum operations; making sure things go smoothly, blogging, etc.”

Austria is an eBay “powerseller,” making some extra cash by selling select shoes that are high in demand or just a few pairs that he doesn’t want anymore. Austria has also been featured in Sole Collector, a nationally renowned sneaker magazine.

“EBay is probably one of the main places people go to find shoes in general, whether it’s old kicks to new releases,” Austria says. “People also make a lot of money reselling Nikes on eBay. It’s pretty ridiculous. At times, shoes are bought 1,000 percent above retail.”

As for his stint with Sole Collector?

“Well, it wasn’t that special. It was Issue 17, the second Jordan magazine that Sole Collector did.  It was a pretty cool experience. I got to meet the creator of the magazine, Steve Mullholand, which was great, and he was the photographer, too. We pretty much met at a store and then ventured through the city looking for good spots to take pictures.  Then I had a mini-interview and that was that.”

And when asked about how many pairs of sneakers he currently owns, Dave smirks and quickly responds, “Don’t worry about it.”

Modest remarks like that are a running theme among sneakerheads that have been in the “game” for a while. Since the culture strives to be anti-mainstream, a lot of information tends to be secretive and unavailable unless you know the right people, or do the right research. Philadelphia’s Ubiq, a sneaker boutique located on Walnut Street, is known for having a football field-sized warehouse of about 4,000 pairs of vintage sneakers mainly used for reference but can also be purchased on Ubiq’s Web site.

When Andy, the assistant buyer of Ubiq, was asked where the exact location of the warehouse is, he hesitated and answered, “That is classified information.”

The warehouse is only open to the buyers, Webmaster, and owner of Ubiq.

“I honestly have not even seen 1 percent of [all the shoes] yet,” Andy says.

Ubiq, one of Austria’s favorite sneaker stores, has had its fair share of crazy customers and surprising stories of those who try to get into the sneaker lifestyle.

A fellow Ubiq employee describes none other than “The Fashion King,” a nickname given to a few of Ubiq’s eccentric customers, says, “If you could put the ’80s into a single 6-5 skinny dude, that would be pretty much him.” Andy says, “Any time he picks up a shiny shoe, he always says the same sound effect, ‘Ooh wee!'”

The two share a laugh, and Andy pauses to point out, “You know what’s funny, he’s the biggest window shopper in here. He’s probably bought only one thing since he’s been around.”

Eccentricity and window shopping isn’t the only way to get recognized by stores like Ubiq. Saturday mornings are when stores prepare themselves for a multitude of customers and a multitude of sales. Saturdays are when the latest and sometimes most-limited sneakers, usually Jordans, are “dropped” or released.

Just recently, Ubiq was preparing to sell the anticipated Air Jordans IX and XIV Countdown Pack.

“Before the store opened, 25 to 30 people were in line,'” Andy says. “But after the store opened, the line kept growing. So the line had to go on for another hour before we could actually start doing regular business.”

Andy could only let two people at a time enter Ubiq during the release of the Air Jordan Countdown Pack. “We sold out in less than an hour until we only had really small and larger sizes,” he says. “By the end of the day, the rest of the sizes were gone.”

The first customer in line for the Countdown Pack arrived at 3 a.m. the night before.

But this type of behavior isn’t unusual. All over the world, shoe collectors go to great lengths for some of the most sought after pairs, whether it’s spending a lot of cash or camping out before a sneaker store sells a new release.

“I’ve heard people camping out for a release a WEEK before it releases,” Austria says.

I remember people sitting outside the corner of Recon in SoHo on Wednesday for a Saturday release. These kids will bring a pull out chair or camping chair and sit there for days. They even have to sleep there so some bring tents.”

Although this all may sound extreme, there must be something else that’s driving these sneakerheads to camp out for days or scour the Internet for hours in order to find the perfect pair to put on their feet.

“In grade school, I always wanted new shoes,” Burke says. “I would frequently hand wash them to keep them in pristine condition.”

“Basketball got me into sneakers, specifically Jordans.” Austria says. “When I got my first pair of Jays in 1997, I was getting a pair of shoes that the greatest basketball player in history was wearing. I had to look through catalogs and magazines to see what shoes were coming out. I remember first learning about the Jordan XIII’s through a Dick’s catalog from the Sunday paper”

Their nostalgic memories show that Ryan and Dave are sneakerheads not for status or for the trends but simply because they have always had some sort of interest in it long before sneaker boutiques like Ubiq opened and sneaker sites on the Internet existed.

The sneaker culture cannot be compared to anything else, which is why today, it has started to get a lot of hype that both guys and girls are attracted to.

“I don’t know where sneaker culture is going,” Austria says. “It is filled with the infamous word ‘hypebeasts.’ I really don’t like using that word, but there are some kids that are willing to buy whatever release comes out regardless of what the shoe looks like. They’ll go with whatever trend is cool and spend whatever amount they have to pay. It has expanded greatly in the past two years with the weird releases that have been coming out. Seems like everyone is a ‘sneakerhead.'”

It’s true. Foot Locker as well as Lady Foot Locker and Kids Foot Locker seem to have caught up with the sneakerhead scene by releasing shoes in similar eye-candy colorways and styles. This proves how readily accessible and mainstream this culture seems to be going.

“The culture itself is dying, in my opinion,” Burke says. “It’s becoming over commercialized and over hyped. In many areas, it has become ‘the cool thing to do.’ Whenever that happens, you’re in the late majority phase of the life cycle. I’m hoping for revitalization. Regardless, I’ll be wearing sneakers until the day I die.”